Environmentalists Sue To Stop Coal Plants, Renewables Gain from Stimulus

MSNBC.com has an article on coal’s issues.

King Coal's reign challenged in courts, D.C.

Environmentalists sue, lawmakers use stimulus for cleaner renewables

Image: Coal-fired power plant

This coal-fired power plant is one of some 600 across the U.S. that provide half of the country's electricity. Coal companies are scrambling after federal subsidies to develop cleaner coal — a strategy they hope will end the beating the industry is taking over climate change.

updated 22 minutes ago

BILLINGS, Mont. - Beneath the frozen plains of eastern Montana and Wyoming lie the largest coal deposits in the world — enough to last the United States more than a century at the nation's current burn rate.

The fuel literally spills from the ground where streambanks cut into the earth, hinting at reserves estimated at 180 billion tons. But even here lawsuits over global warming and the changing political landscape in Washington are pummeling an industry that has long been the backbone of America's power supply.

How bad is it?  Here are few examples of changes in coal plants.

In recent weeks, a group of rural Montana electric co-ops abandoned a partially built 250-megawatt coal plant, ending a four-year legal campaign by environmentalists to stop the project. The co-ops plan to instead get their electricity from a natural gas plant — more expensive for customers but also more likely to get built.

A few miles away, the U.S. Air Force dropped plans for a major coal-to-jet fuel plant once touted as the harbinger of a new market for coal. There are no signs it will be revived.

Other plants are moving forward in Montana and at least a dozen other states, but the exodus from coal has hit every corner of the country. On Thursday, two more were shelved — plants in Iowa and Nevada that would have generated enough power for 1.6 million homes.

In Nevada, LS Power said it was postponing a 1,600 megawatt coal plant and will instead focus on tapping the state's geothermal, wind and solar potential. Iowa's Interstate Power and Light dropped a 630 megawatt plant as it pursues a 200 megawatt wind farm.

"In the last year the world has changed 180 degrees," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign.

But coal still produces 50% of the US’s electricity.

Still provides half of electricity
But Lucas and other point out that despite the setbacks, the coal-fired power industry continues to enjoy its largest expansion in three decades. The Department of Energy tallies 28 plants now under construction.

They will join an estimated 600 coal plants that currently provide about half of the nation's electricity. The rest comes from a mix of natural gas, fuel oil and renewables such as wind and geothermal.

The Sierra Club's Nilles acknowledged his group's anti-coal campaign has so far made little headway with existing coal plants. Those plants produce about 2 billion tons annually of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide — roughly a third of the United States' total global warming emissions.